“You got to know what you are selling”- Cynthia Howk


Marketing Historic Homes Successfully- GRAR class How many times have we seen a real estate advertisement of a historic house with a style listed as colonial but it is actually a bungalow? In the words of Cynthia Howk, the architectural research coordinator with the Landmark Society of Western New York, “I can bet 9 out of 10 times.”

If you want to sell a historic house, you should know the history of the house, the place, and the style and have a genuine interest in learning about historic architecture and its intricacies. This was the crux of the realtor class “Marketing Historic Homes Successfully” organized by GRAR at their headquarters on September 24th, 2009. This class was a day long affair divided into two sessions before lunch, followed by a quick talk on “what style is it?” and a tour of the east side neighborhoods of the city in the afternoon. This is a semi- annual class organized by GRAR twice a year on two consecutive Thursdays in September and April. With this class, realtors can earn up to 15 continuing education credits.

The instructor for the class was our famed Cynthia Howk, with over 30 years of experience in local history and preservation planning under her belt. Interestingly enough, many participants have attended this class more than once; many of them mentioned that they learn something new from Cynthia each time they take the class. Cynthia mentioned how Landmark Society was started by the efforts of Helen Ellwanger and since then for over 70 years has been instrumental in saving the landmarks of this area including Campbell Whitelesey house, City Hall, Roycroft Inn in East Aurora (a project with Landmark Society for 18 months but stretched to 8 years) and many more such jewels.. In addition, the Landmark Society offers professional services in the field of preservation planning including natio nal register nominations and historic resources surveys. Besides that we hold annual house and garden tour and many more educational events for the general public to create awareness about Rochester’s history and architecture. After this primer, Cynthia took us on a whirlwind ride of the history of upstate New York. She suggested we all drop the word “Colonial” from our architectural vocabulary. We need use it only if we are talking about the period before 1783, when United States was a colony of Great Britain.
During the early 1800’s most Americans lived within 50 miles of a major water body. At that time there was only one main road in all of New York State. With the opening of the Erie Canal tens and thousands of im
migrants came to Western New York making Rochester one of the first boomtowns in 19th Century America. In the 1830’s and 1840’s Rochester was known as the “Flour City” as it was able to transport the ground flour from its mills along the banks of the Genesee River to cities and towns near and far via the Erie Canal.

Cynthia talked about the metamorphosis of Rochester starting with Flour city to the Flower city in mid 1850’s with the rise of horticulture industry. Following the Civil War began the gilded age and the phenomenon of grand avenues in American cities. Ellwanger and Barry started their first trolley line in the 1860’s. Next in the line was the industrial revolution, with Rochester’s biggest employer being the Cunningham Company, maker of luxury carriageways. By the time Cunningham went out of business in the 1940’s there were new industrial giants like Bausch and Lomb, Eastman Kodak and Hickey Freeman. All these businesses and people defined the architectural and physical development of 20th Century Rochester and made the city what it is today.

Following Cynthia Howk’s presentation, Steve Jordan talked about doing a visual inspection of a historic house. Steve has over 30 years of experience in historic preservation, is a graduate of Cornell University and specializes in window restoration. He started his talk with macro issues like site planning and then got into details like materials, gutters, painting and siding. He showed wonderful slides of historic houses explaining common problems and ways to correct them.
After Steve’s ta
lk, there was long lunch break and then Cynthia talked about 19th century house styles. She said style has nothing to do with the materials, number of storeys or the size of the house. Just like clothing or automobiles, buildings also have a style.
She spoke about styles in a chronological manner beginning with Federal style, Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, Italian
ate and Queen Anne. She also debunked the myth associated with the use of the word “Victorian” when discussing architecture. There is no “Victorian” style, rather it is a period of history that refers to the reign of England’s Queen Victoria from the 1840s to the early 1900s.

After this enriching talk was the much awaited bus tour of various east side neighborhoods of the city with a narration by Cynthia. We started with the mansions of East Avenue and then headed into Downtown.

Our first stop
was much acclaimed Rochester Savings Bank, designed by the preeminent architecture firm of the early 20th century McKim, Mead & White with the local architect J. Foster Warner. After that we rode along Andrews Street, the old clothing district of Rochester and then on to the various residential districts of the city.

Next stop: Corn Hill, the city’s oldest neighborhood with its interesting mix of Greek revival, Italianate and Italianate villa styled houses. We also visited many other interesting neighborhoods like Upper Monroe and the funky Park Ave neighborhood’s “A-B-C” streets. Cynthia mentioned how fascinating it is to learn how the streets got their names and what they can tell us about the history of the community. She also pointed us to the one and only Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house in Rochester as well as the Neighborhood of the Arts and the Grove Place neighborhood. At Grove Place we explored the eclectic mix of contemporary townhouses and beautifully crafted historic townhouses along Selden Street. The second part of this class was held on October 1st and involved follow up talks on 20th century architectural styles, how to research your historic house and an overview on landmark designations. In addition, University of Rochester professor emeritus Jean France spoke about the architects of Rochester. A bus tour of the remaining neighborhoods of Rochester completed the session and the class until next spring. If you missed the class this Fall, be sure to register for next session in spring as it is the most educational class you will ever attend. This program was extremely informative, fascinating, one of a kind experience for anyone interested in the local history of our area.

Posted by Nimisha Thakur, Preservation Associate


“You got to know what you are selling”- Cynthia Howk


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